Christian Life 

The Shaping of Things to Come

The Shaping of Things to ComeThe Shaping of Things To Come:
Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church
by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, Hendrickson 2003

A review by Eddie Arthur

I have spent most of my adult life involved, in one way or another, in overseas missions. I have lived in an isolated African village, learned the local language and culture, and helped to translate the New Testament. I have attended numerous courses and seminars on cross-cultural ministry - both as a student and as a teacher. Despite the experience that I have built up over the years, one question has always flummoxed me. Many people have asked how I would set about reaching the British for Christ, and I have never been able to give an answer that I found at all convincing.

On reading 'The Shaping of Things To Come' by Frost and Hirsch, I have come to the conclusion that both the way to reach the British for Christ, and my inability to answer the question of how to set about it, lie with the Church. The very familiarity of the conventional church in the UK, with its routine of services and celebrations, the forward facing pews, sermons, songs and announcements is so ingrained in my experience that I find it hard to imagine the Church being anything different. I am so conditioned by my church experience that I find it very difficult to think outside of the box. Frost and Hirsch make a very strong case for the Church being the vehicle for bringing the Gospel to Western culture. However, they argue that if the Church is to do this it needs to undergo some huge changes: we 'need to change the whole fibre of the church.' 'We need revolution not evolution'. Frost and Hirsch argue for the creation of what they call 'Missional Churches,' which are fundamentally different from the traditional Churches I have grown up in.

Three factors are key to understanding how churches are, and how they should be. Frost and Hirsch say that traditional churches are attractional, dualistic and hierarchical, but that they need to be missional, messianic and apostolic.

Attractional versus Missional

Frost and Hirsch say that traditional churches create sacred spaces that are fundamentally uncomfortable for not-yet-christians. Then they set about drawing the not-yet-Christians into those spaces. They say that in the attractional church

 - evangelism becomes about inviting people to meetings

- and this limits our vision for what God can do both in time and in space. But

- Jesus didn't say, sit in your church and wait for people to come to you.

Even when traditional churches set out to be evangelistic, Frost and Hirsch suggest that church planting generally involves planting Sunday services rather than real Christian communities.

The Missional church, on the other hand

- does not seek to attract people to it. It seeps into the cracks and crevices of a society in order to be Christ to those who don't know him yet.

It does this through proximity spaces, shared projects, and commercial enterprises. Proximity spaces are

 - places or events where Christians and not-yet-Christians can interact meaningfully with each other.

They are definitely not churches. Examples of proximity spaces include art workshops, pubs and cafes where Christians form part of the regular clientele. Shared projects are activities of genuine interest to the wider community, which meet a need and provide an opportunity for Christians and not-yet-Christians to meet in a natural situation. Commercial enterprises are real businesses, run by Christians for the wider community, but which are not overtly evangelistic. Examples included a shoe shop in San Francisco and a pub in Barnsley. The point of all of these activities is to find neutral ground where the Church can intentionally meet with the wider world.

This does not mean that the Church merely becomes a social club. Bible teaching and worship are still very much part of the life of the church (though perhaps not done in traditional ways), as is mutual commitment and accountability.

Dualistic versus Messianic

Frost and Hirsch say that traditional churches are dualistic. That is, they believe that there is a separation between the secular and the sacred. This idea is rooted in Greek philosophy, not the Bible. Most churches and Christians in the West have bought into this idea, so that they do not even question it. This distinction impacts all aspects of life. We have sacred and secular people (clergy and laity), sacred and secular places (church buildings and the rest of the world), and sacred and secular activities (church services and the rest). This separation of the sacred and the secular infects our thoughts to a great extent. It allows us to contract out spiritual duties such as evangelism to the professional Christians of the clergy. And it leads us to think that only activities which take place in our church buildings are truly spiritual.

Frost and Hirsch encourage the Church to abandon this distinction between secular and sacred, and to adopt the attitude of Jesus, who saw all activity as part of his ministry. We need to adopt an attitude which sees all of our activity, work, relaxation and specifically Christian service as a sacrament. All of our life must be sacred, and we must take Jesus with us wherever we go.

 - The church in the West must adopt a missionary stance in relation to its cultural context or die.

Hierarchical versus Apostolic

Frost and Hirsch say that all traditional churches have a hierarchical leadership system, though some are more overtly hierarchical than others. They argue that this is neither Biblical nor efficient, and the Church needs to adopt the 'APEPT' system of leadership taken from Ephesians 4 (Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists and Pastor Teachers). This plurality of leadership based on spiritual gifting meets all of the needs of the Church, whereas a traditional hierarchical model often leaves gaping holes.


'The Shaping of Things to Come' is essentially a pragmatic book looking at how the church needs to adapt to fit our current situation, but it is not a theologically naive book. Each section and suggestion is supported by biblical reflection and reference to a wide range of Christian thinkers.

Eddie Arthur, 18/08/2008

NOTICE: - The 'Response' facility on most articles is restricted to CT site members. Site members should login here. Comments/questions from non-site members should be sent to the Editor by e-mail.

Christians Together in the Highlands and Islands > Christian Life > The Shaping of Things to Come